How do you show love to your husband? How does your wife want to be loved?

Our monthly theme for Wednesdays this month is about small, practical things you can put in place that can seriously help your marriage and help you to feel really close. Like, what are the small things that give the most bang for the buck, so to speak? We started off by showing how the “Five Whys” exercise can help you uncover the root of a lot of your problems, so that you don’t assume that it’s just that your spouse is doing something wrong or is a bad person (or that your relationship is in trouble!).

Today I want to talk about helping your spouse feel loved.

Many of you are probably familiar with the five love languages idea–that idea that says that all of us have certain “love languages” by which we most experience love, and we tend to try to show love in those same languages. The problem is that your spouse may not speak the same love language, and if you’re trying to show love in your love language, they may not actually feel loved despite all your best efforts.

It’s based on Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages, and it posits that most of us experience love best in one of these five ways (though another way could be a close second):

  • Acts of Service
  • Quality Time
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Physical Touch
  • Gifts

I want to take us beyond the five love languages today with an exercise that is easy, relatively quick, and can change the whole dynamic in your marriage. And thank you to FamilyLife Canada for the ideas behind this exercise!

We don’t just have love languages; we also all have deep emotional needs, or ways that we most feel complete and satisfied in a relationship.

I won’t list them all, but here are just a few that may resonate with you:

  • Security: I need to feel safe and secure, like I’m your only object of affection
  • Affirmation and Encouragement: I need to feel like you believe in me, and that you think I can take on the world
  • Conversation and Communication: I need to feel as if you are opening up to me and sharing things with me.
  • Affection and Touch: I need your touch to feel connected to you.
  • Priority: I need to feel as if I am the most important thing in your life.
  • Partnership: I need to feel like we’re a team; that we raise kids together; that we do housework together; that we have shared goals; that we plan and vision together.
  • Shared Activities: I need you to do things with me. Without you, I just don’t enjoy activities. You’re my best friend.
  • Spiritual Health and Well-Being; I need to feel as if we can go to God together, and that we’re growing spiritually together.
  • Physical Health and Well-Being: I need to feel as if we’re being good stewards of our bodies and we’re being healthy. Fitness and health are important values to me.
  • Sexual Satisfaction: I need to feel as if you desire me. Being sexually connected with you is one of the big ways that I feel close.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and the truth is that ALL of us need all of these things to a certain extent. But ask yourself: “When I’m upset with my spouse, what is usually the root cause? What am I feeling like I’m not getting?” Chances are that’s an unmet emotional need. And feel free to add a need if you think there’s something that’s more “you” but it isn’t there.

Now, for the exercise that I’m going to suggest, we’re going to take sexual satisfaction off of the list. It’s not that it’s not important; it’s just that it’s in its own category, in many ways, and I’ve got more posts coming up and all over this blog (along with challenges like 31 Days to Great Sex or my 24 Sexy Dares) that deal with these!

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So here’s what I want you to do: Get together with your spouse and read through that list and think of the two emotional needs that are most important to you. Then think of your love language as well (it could very well be that your love language and your emotional needs overlap!).

For instance, my deepest emotional need is for Security. Likely because my dad left when I was so young, I yearn to feel like Keith is taking care of me, that he has my back, that he’s always going to be there. The problem is that I also have a strong justice side, where I get incensed when people are misusing others, and I want to fix it. So I’m forever marching into battle, and then I’m yelling at my husband, “Hey! I need you to be here and make sure I’m safe!” It’s not exactly a great combination.

Keith, on the other hand, really needs affirmation and encouragement. He needs to feel as if I really respect and love and admire him.

I’ve also got a secondary need for Partnership; he’s got a secondary need for Shared Activities. So we’re not on the same page for many of these things at all!

But when you don’t share the same emotional needs, it’s quite likely that you each will feel as if your emotional well can run dry in marriage.

Even when we share the same need, we may get so busy and preoccupied that we forget to show our spouse! So let’s figure out a way to do that.

I first did this exercise a few years ago, in my post on 25 ways to show your husband love, and I want to revive it again, because it’s an important one.

So with your emotional needs in mind, each of you write down 15-25 quick things that your spouse could do to make you feel loved. There are just a few rules:

  • They have to be free–or at least extremely cheap (say under $3)
  • They have to take less than 10 minutes (ideally 1-3 minutes)
  • They have to have nothing to do with sex

(I know some of you may really want the sex part, but trust me: Sex works better when you each feel loved and emotionally connected! And when sex isn’t great, sometimes if we start by rebuilding the relationship, sex can grow).

Here, for example, are some that help me with my need for security:

  • Read my blog posts and take note if there are any nasty comments to talk to me about
  • If I’m upset about something, express righteous anger on my behalf when appropriate
  • Tell me that you love me frequently
  • Hug me hard before you leave the house

For Keith, here are some that are important to him:

  • Greet me when I walk in the door and give me a kiss
  • Tell me that you’re proud of me, especially when other people can hear
  • Come with me on bird watching hikes (okay, that one takes longer than 3 minutes, but it’s fun anyway!)
  • Ask about my hobbies and listen as I share stories of what has recently happened

You get the picture. And you can likely come up with more of your own!

Show Your Spouse Love! Make lists to exchange, and then do them! To encourage the non-sexual side of marriage--which feeds the sexual one! :)

And if you want a printable worksheet that can help you work through this challenge, I encourage you to check out the free resource below:

Then exchange lists. You can even just take a photo of it and store it in your phone for easy reference.

And now commit to doing 2 things a day on that list, no matter what.

Keith and I started this “show your spouse love” exercise when we were grieving our son

We’d been going through a tough time after Christopher died, and a counsellor suggested this exercise. It helped us get out of our own heads and focus on the other person, which helped change the dynamic of the relationship. We felt like the other person did care, and was reaching out. And that made a big difference.

Can you try it? Just make up the lists tonight after dinner. And then see how it impacts your marriage!

An Easy Exercise to Meet Each Other's Emotional Needs

What’s your biggest emotional need? Is there one that I missed? Have you ever tried an exercise like this? Let’s talk in the comments!

SheilaSidebarAboutMe - A Way to Show Love to Your Spouse--and Meet their Emotional Needs Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 27 years and happily married for 22! She loves traveling around North America with her hubby in their RV, giving her signature "Girl Talk" about sex and marriage. And she's written 8 books. About sex and marriage. See a theme here? Plus she knits. Even in line at the grocery store.
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